Poisonous Natives / Deer Resistant Natives

July already. Plants are growing like there's no tomorrow. The hummingbirds are my constant companions in the garden and the resident deer population comes by daily. There are two spotted fawns that now accompany their mother along with a couple of her sisters. Life is good.

I see them sampling plants what the older deer are trying. There are native plants that are poisonous for us but only some of them are avoided by deer. It got me thinking. How do deer eat poisonous plants without apparent ill affect?  

Deer are browsers. They thrive on a mixed diet. You've seen them eat a few roses then saunter over to the abutilon and then on to the daylily flowers. Deer will eat almost anything, even plants with a strong scent like catmint, lavender,  or thyme when they are hungry or need water. They can even eat a few bites of various toxic plants.

According to Tom Hanley,  a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, "There seems to be threshold levels for the toxicity of different plants, and as long as deer eat below that threshold, they're okay."  Plant toxicity varies with the time of year also and flowers may be less toxic than leaves or roots. They just mix it up.

That explains the eating habits of deer but what about us?

Many of us are including native plants in our landscapes to attract wildlife and save water and resources. Here are some common native plants that you should be aware of if you have small children.  This list comes from
Borstein, Foss and O'Brian- California Native plants for the Garden.

Coffeeberry- leaves, berries and bark
California buckeye- all parts  (poisonous to bees also)
Western azalea- all parts
Elderberry- all parts except ripe berries and fruit
Solanum-all parts
California buttercup- juice of the plant
Berberis- roots and leaves
Prunus ( cherry )- seeds
California poppy- all parts
Lupine (annual)- seeds, fresh leaves and stems.

Mostly though, native plants make great additions to the garden. They tend to be well behaved and are rarely invasive. Birds and butterflies rely on them for food, shelter and nesting. And best of all they are beautiful.

When I'm designing with native plants I find the following plants are fairly safe around deer. They are not perfectly safe at all times of the year but they are usually avoided.

Artemisia also called Ca. sagebrush
Asarum – Wild ginger
Baccharis – Dwf coyote brush
Ceanothus  'Julia Phelps'
Eriogonum – Ca. buckwheat
Douglas iris
Mimulus auritanicus – Sticky monkey flower
Monardella – Coyote mint
Ribes speciosum – Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry

Enjoy your garden. Let the deer browse elsewhere and be aware of plants that may be toxic to children.